The WWE has a self-created Saudi Arabia problem on its hands.
Crown Jewel, a pay-per-view event scheduled to take place on November 2nd in Riyadh, is under heavy scrutiny as we learn more about the Saudi government's role in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And now, members of Congress are calling for the event to be canceled.
On April 25th, 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman unveiled Saudi Vision 2030 – a plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and expand public service sectors, including entertainment.
Remember when country singer Toby Keith headlined a concert in Riyadh and everyone was like, WTF? That was part of Saudi Vision 2030. Another central part of the expanded entertainment sector was announced on March 5th of this year, when WWE entered into a 10-year strategic partnership with the Saudi government through the General Sports Authority.
The first event in this new partnership, the Greatest Royal Rumble, took place on April 27th in front of 60,000 fans at King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah. If you watched any of the pay-per-view, you know that it was essentially a five-hour infomercial for the House of Saud with some wrestling matches tossed in.
None of those matches featured any of the WWE’s women wrestlers because Saudi Arabia is still emerging from the Dark Ages. Women were allowed to attend the event, but only if they were accompanied by a man. Again, Dark Ages.
The second event in this partnership, Crown Jewel, is scheduled for November 2nd at King Saud University in Riyadh. The alleged kidnapping, murder, and dismemberment of Washington Post contributor and American resident Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly at the behest of bin Salman should make canceling the event a no-brainer for the WWE. The Future Investment Initiative, nicknamed “Davos in the Desert” is scheduled for the end of October in Riyadh, and the New York Times announced it would no longer be a media sponsor of the event because of Khashoggi’s disappearance. Arianna Huffington has dropped out of the event, along with Patrick Soon-Shiong, the new owner of the Los Angeles Times. Other speakers are expected to follow suit.
Common sense would dictate the WWE canceling the event and taking a long, hard look at that 10-year agreement they signed with bin Salman. Linda McMahon, a member of the Trump administration is part owner of the WWE. Nothing good can come from Crown Jewel going ahead as planned. Unless, of course, you see millions of dollars in blood money as a good thing. The Greatest Royal Rumble is rumored to have put $50 million dollars in the McMahon family’s coffers. What’s the life of a journalist worth to you, Vince? Hopefully more than what it’s worth to your pal (and WWE Hall-of-Famer) President Trump, who seemingly dismissed concerns about Khashoggi’s disappearance, saying it happened in Turkey and that Khashoggi isn’t an American citizen.
Earlier today, senators on both sides of the aisle urged the WWE to cancel the event. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where the WWE's headquarters are located, said, "I’d hope that they would be rethinking their relationship with the kingdom especially with respect to events coming up in the next weeks."
In a one-line statement, a spokesperson for the WWE said, "We are currently monitoring the situation." What they should do is cancel Crown Jewel and terminate the partnership with the Saudi government. A government whose abysmal record on human rights should have kept the WWE far the hell away in the first place. We rarely get the opportunity to undo a huge mistake. Vince McMahon and family shouldn’t blow theirs.